Productivity. Every employer loves it, and every employee is fascinated by it, especially if it comes in cute colors, a retina screen, and weighs under a pound... at least until such time as "productivity" results in the loss of the employee's job, which in turn makes the employer love it even more as it results in even higher profits, even if it means one more pink slip and a 91 million people outside the labor force.
With a labor force already in turmoil as millions drop out every year never to be heard from again, made obscolete by the latest technological and computerized innovation, and students stuck in college where they pile up record amounts of student loans (at last check well over $1 trillion) hoping form some job, any job, upon graduation, unfortunately the future is not bright at all.
In a recently published paper, "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation," Oxford researchers Frey and Osborne, look at the probability of computerization by occuption. What they find is shocking for nearly half of the US labor force, and especially those in the transportation, production, office support, sales, service and extraction professions.
JPM's Michael Cembalest summarizes it as follows:
Life after college: be prepared for technology to continue changing the job landscape
There’s plenty of data on unemployment rates and salaries by undergraduate major (the majors with the lowest unemployment rates and highest salaries: computer, chemical, electrical, civil and mechanical engineering; math/physics; and economics. Drama and film majors are a recipe for living at home). A more important long-run issue to think about may be how technology affects your career. Researchers at Oxford just published an analysis assessing what jobs might be computerized in the future. Their conclusion: a staggering 47% of the US workforce, spanning a range of career types. There are vigorous debates about outsourcing, but increasingly, computerization may grow as a factor affecting employment conditions.
In The Man in the White Suit, Alec Guinness invents a suit that never has to be cleaned or replaced. London’s tailors and dry cleaners angrily chase him down in the street to destroy his invention. They are relieved when the suit finally starts to unravel, since the fiber’s design is flawed. Productivity improvements are great things, but there might be a point at which too much power shifts to capital over labor. Anyway, when you think about a career, remember that in some professions, eventually a computer might be able to do it too, or reduce the economic value of you doing it (e.g., the impact of the internet on print journalism).
The good news: those iPad apps are cheap, and most unemployed workers - who were put out of a job thanks to one - can afford them. The bad news: anyone lamenting the return of America's employment golden age, is kindly encouraged to exhale.